Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, saying he had been seriously ill the past month, emphasized again this week his team is not for sale and that he still intends to sign a long-term lease that would trigger construction on a new stadium in downtown Baltimore.
Williams also said he would not pass the team on to his family, which probably would result in the sale of the club. But, sounding strong and saying he was "feeling better and better" after recent hospitalization for cancer treatment, Williams talked like a man more concerned with spring training.
"I'm more excited than ever about spring training," Williams said in a telephone interview. "I just have a lot of enthusiasm. We've been in the doldrums too long. We've been in places--fifth and sixth place--we don't belong. Other teams have turned it around in a year. Boston went from fifth to first (in 1986). I'm looking for us to make a big jump."
Sources near Williams, 67, said he has received several bids for the team, which he bought for $12 million in 1979. Most recently, sources said, Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro assembled a group that offered him $54 million last summer. Williams turned down the offer, and in an interview with The Baltimore Sun this week, said his recent illness hadn't changed his mind about selling.
"I did not buy it to sell," he said. "What am I going to do with (the money)? No, I don't think I'd sell it. I've had plenty of opportunities to sell it. But I've never entertained one of the proposals seriously. If someone comes in and makes an offer, I listen to the offer, but I never encourage them."
Reports of Williams' most recent illness had Baltimore sports fans concerned about their last major-league franchise. The Orioles have a lease to play at Memorial Stadium only through 1988, and if the club were to be sold, there surely would be bids from Denver, Tampa and other cities seeking major-league baseball.
One of Williams' most famous clients, Denver oil man Marvin Davis, has attempted to buy the Oakland A's and New York Yankees and almost surely would bid for the Orioles.
Negotiations between the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority were stalled six weeks ago when Baltimore began courting the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League.
However, Williams said Thursday, "I expect to sign a lease. . . .I think we will arrive at an agreement on a lease very quickly."
Regardless, he said he hoped the Orioles would remain in Baltimore, saying, "I'm not for moving franchises. Baltimore has supported the franchise extremely well. It is a good sports town. We just have to give it a good product, and we haven't given it a good product in a couple of years."
Williams, who has had seven operations since being diagnosed as having cancer in 1977, said his recent hospitalization after Christmas in Boston was due to an obstruction in his bile ducts.
He became dehydrated and needed a week in the hospital to recover, he said. Williams returned to his Washington office on a part-time basis this week and said he would be back full time by next week.
Although he has seven children, Williams has kept them out of the team's operations, saying, "Their place is not to get into the old man's business and get jacked along."
The Orioles haven't made any major player acquisitions this winter. However, Williams said he's convinced his club, which has had declining records since winning the 1983 World Series, is headed in the right direction. Williams fired General Manager Hank Peters and farm director Tom Giordano the day after the 1987 season and replaced them with Roland Hemond and Doug Melvin, who began an organizational overhaul that is still going on.
"We're adding scouts all the time," Williams said. "I should qualify that. We're both adding scouts and substituting others. We're starting to build the farm system from the bottom up."
He added that he should have fired Peters and Giordano sooner.
"I let myself get talked out of it by listening to the so-called baseball men," he said. "I should have made the move two years ago."
He acknowledged that building through a farm system is not done quickly, but added, "I'm looking at a quick turnaround. I have a whole new morale in my company. Our scouts have had their meetings the last two days, and they were tremendous meetings. I've had excellent conversations with Eddie Murray (who he had a public feud with in 1986), and we've had a total understanding. Eddie is going to have his greatest year. I believe Cal Ripken Jr. will have a great year.
"We're also going to continue to negotiate trades. They haven't come to fruition yet, but we're going to continue negotiating. I'm looking to make some deals before the season begins."